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       Tripped Out, p.8

         Part #8.5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  “Leading you to believe that Macon had hired Breck as the biodiversity expert,” Liam finished.

  Stirling touched her nose. “Then Breck apologized for passing on the job offer from Macon, but he couldn’t wait for us to get the organic farm on track. Instead, he’d taken a job with the state inspecting livestock. That never clicked until now.”

  Liam scowled. “I believed Macon was different, but he’s just another slimy lawyer, who apparently would even fuck over his own sister.”

  “Not true. Macon would never do that.”

  “How can you defend him?” he demanded.

  She counted to ten before she answered. “Look. I’m not defending him, just… Let me explain him. Macon has always looked out for himself first. He invested twice as much capital in High Society as I did. He needed me focused on this venture, not one a few years down the road that might not be a viable business anyway. So I understand his reason for doing it.”

  “With this Breck guy? Or with me?”

  “Both. At that time, Breck was considering leaving to find permanent employment. Macon probably made up the promise of a job to keep Breck around so he wouldn’t run away from his feelings for Cres. They’re happy and together, so Macon’s heart was in the right place.”

  “And what about me?”

  “Macon brought you to Denver and gave you a sneak peek at my land, so you’d believe he’d eventually have a large-scale cannabis business. He must’ve had doubts that you’d sign on with such a small company if there wasn’t room for expansion.” She scrutinized the rigidness of his body as he continued to pace. “How long did it take you to officially sign on after Macon promised he’d custom design a lab for you?”

  “One hour,” he said without hesitation. “And it pains me to admit that, even as I applaud your brother for playing me so expertly.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I wanted out of my contract. I needed an attorney with a successful track record in breaking complex employment contracts and a mutual friend recommended him. We had several phone conversations before I agreed to come to Denver. That’s when he pulled that… Hey, while you’re here—and before I share the good news about your contract—could you check out this land for me and give me your professional opinion?” He laughed harshly. “So I did. Not knowing it wasn’t his land. But at least he told you the truth about my recommendation to leave the land fallow for at least a year. Anyway, he assured me he’d found a loophole that would end my employment with GreenTech and allow me to go to work for him at High Society without restrictions.”

  “And to sweeten the pot—ha-ha pardon the pun—he offered you full autonomy?”

  His gaze sharpened. “How did—”

  “It’s how Macon operates.” She heaved a heavy sigh. “He’s not malicious, but he is the king of manipulation. I’d unleash my fury on him if I thought he’d acted out of spite. But he did what he had to do to make all of the pieces fit where he wanted them to. I hate to admit it, but he’s been successful in every endeavor because he finds a way to make things work for him.”

  They both chewed that over.

  Stirling sighed again. “But knowing all of this doesn’t change anything.”

  “That’s where you’re wrong.” He downed his Red Bull. “Ironically enough, that’s also where you checked out of our conversation last night.”

  “Let’s pretend for a moment that I don’t have the faintest clue as to what you’re talking about. Oh right, I don’t have to pretend.”

  Liam reached into his mini fridge and pulled out two cans of…

  “Cannabis cola?” she read out loud. “Seriously?”

  “Yes. We need clear and calm heads. This will do it. While we’re both sipping sativa syrup, you’ll listen to the strategy I’ve laid out for Macon.”

  “Fine, Dr. Devious, you have my attention.”

  “We convince him to buy the biggest industrial CO2 extraction equipment on the market.”

  “Go big or go home, right?”

  “Exactly. I already know how to operate the machinery. The key is to emphasize almost immediate cash flow—assuming the permits are issued in a timely fashion, the installation is quick, the company techs arrive on site and refresh my memory on specific instrumentation, and there isn’t a backlog on the various inspections we’ll need. Everything you said in the meeting yesterday is inarguable.”

  She didn’t mask her look of shock. “We’re in agreement on something important for once?”

  “It appears that way. But the trick is keeping the combative status quo between us. Because if Macon suspects we’re on the same side against him—”

  “He’ll never agree to give us the green light.”


  “Or option B…I could just write a company check and we can play the ‘Oops, I thought I told you about that major equipment purchase’ card.”

  “I considered that angle. But subterfuge is his preferred methodology with us; we’ll see how well it works on him.”

  Liam insisted they do a practice run involving all three scenarios he’d planned for.

  Twenty minutes later, they were as ready as they’d ever be. Silence stretched between them as they drank their sodas and let the plan sink in.

  “Any questions?”

  She shook her head.

  “You seem nervous.”

  “I am. I don’t normally use trickery to get what I want and it feels wrong.”

  “You use trickery all the time.” He drained his soda and crushed the can. “Remember all those pranks you played on me? Keep them in mind when we’re with Macon. It’ll make you feel superior. And if that doesn’t work? Think about how much you hate me.”

  Here was a make or break moment. “Liam, I don’t hate you.”

  His eyebrow winged up in a silent, mocking “Oh really?”

  “In fact, I told you last night I loved you.” She nudged his leg with hers. “Remember that?”

  “It’s a bit hazy. Was that during our scintillating conversation about Pop-Tarts? Or right before you went comatose during my soliloquy?”

  Cocky asshat. “Both.” She smiled. “From the moment you strolled in here, you’ve acted uptight and holier-than-thou. It reminded me of me a few years ago and I hated the reminder. Then you were stubborn about cooperating with me—”

  “Or you refused to do things my way, as I saw it,” he interjected, “but go on.”

  “And I started pranking you, expecting you’d ignore it. But you embraced it. You even surpassed me on a few occasions. So…” Shut up, Stirling. You’ve already said too much.

  “So…?” he prompted.

  “I was surprised you gave as good as you got.”

  His gaze encompassed her face before he trained his focus entirely on her lips.


  “You have no idea how much I want to prove how good I can give it to you.”

  Boom. It was as if a thunderclap cleared the air between them, leaving energy crackling in the space, buzzing and ready for lightning to strike at any moment.


  That voice. Pure sex. Her mind screamed at her to retreat, but her body, lulled by the warmth of his muscular leg pressing into hers, refused to budge. “But…you’ve always acted like I’m beneath you.”

  “I’ve always wanted you beneath me.” He angled his head until his mouth touched the spot below her ear.

  She didn’t want to break the spell, but she trembled when his lips journeyed down the side of her neck. “I didn’t think you were attracted to me,” she said on a near whisper.

  “And I didn’t think you were an idiot, Miss Gradsky.”

  Stirling froze.

  Then Liam was nose to nose with her, his eyes fierce behind his glasses. “You are a beautiful woman. Stunningly beautiful when you smile, cunningly beautiful when you’ve got that devious look in your eyes. You’re intelligent and clever, and I’d be a fool not to be attracted to you.”

  “And you, Dr. Liam Argent, are no fool,” she whispered.

  “Exactly.” He smiled. “So the question is… What do we do about it?”

  Take a step back?

  Or take a leap of faith?

  Stirling didn’t hesitate as she felt the rush of solid ground disappearing beneath her. “We do this,” she murmured as she brushed her lips across his. Then she curled her hand around the back of his neck and brought him even closer. “And a whole lot of this.”

  Their mouths collided. The soft exploration of lips gave way to a teasing of tongues. Then hunger—sweet, hot, desperate hunger overtook them both. Mouth on mouth, their heads changing angles in perfect synchronicity to taste deeper, to better sate this need. The exchange of breath and the wet glide of lips... This wasn’t a mere kiss. This was a promise of intimacy on a whole different level.

  As one they broke the kiss, but their lips weren’t more than a millimeter apart.

  They had about ten seconds of staring into each other’s eyes with identical holy shit expressions, when a buzzing started beneath her right breast.

  Wait. When had she climbed onto Liam’s lap?

  “That’s my phone.”

  She leaned back and watched as he fished his cell out of the front pocket of his lab coat.

  “It’s Macon.” He answered “Hey” without looking away from Stirling. A few moments later he said, “Uh-huh.” Pause. “Uh-huh.” Longer pause. “Uh-huh.”

  She smirked. She’d never heard Dr. Vocabulary utter uh-huh even once the past ten months, to say nothing of it being his only verbal response. Good to know that kiss flustered him as much as it had her.

  He hung up and continued to stare at her through his fogged-up lenses.



  Snort. “What did Macon want?”

  He blinked rapidly a couple of times. “He’s here, ready to meet with us.”

  “Okay. I’ll just—”

  “Wait.” Liam pressed his lips to hers. Once. Twice. Then he said softly, “Don’t dismiss this. Please.”

  The tenderness in his words and his kiss made her ache. “I won’t.” She stood and straightened her blouse. “I need to stop at my office first. So I’ll, ah…see you there.”

  “Remember how we’re going to play this.”

  Right. I’m having a hard time remembering my own damn name because I want to play with you.

  She grabbed her soda can and hightailed it out of there.

  With that mind-blowing kiss stuck on replay in her head, she was caught completely off guard when she heard, “Where have you been?”

  A gasp escaped when she spun around and saw Macon lounging against the wall across from her office. “Oh. Hey.” Nothing to see here, bro. I wasn’t just sucking face with my supposed nemesis.

  His gaze sharpened. “Why the guilty look, sis?”


  “Whatcha hiding in your hand?”

  She held up the can of cannabis cola and grinned sheepishly. “I’m afraid I needed liquid courage before this meeting.”

  “I’m not going to reprimand you. In fact, where did you get that? I could use one.”

  “Ah… Sorry. It was the last one in my fridge but the retail store sells them.”

  “All right. I’ll grab one and see you in the conference room.”

  Chapter Six

  Liam didn’t move as he watched the door to his office close behind Stirling.

  No, he wasn’t rattled at all.

  He remained Dr. Calm, Cool, and Collected, same as always.

  Is that right? So why is your body shaking? Why is your heart thundering. Why is your face burning? Why is your cock as hard as a test tube?

  Fuck. He was a mess after kissing Stirling. A hormonal wreck—he’d almost said “screw it” to the meeting in favor of screwing her. He imagined pushing her skirt up, holding her ass in his hands, feeling her cowgirl boots digging into the backs of his thighs as his cock pounded into her.

  He ditched his glasses and scrubbed his hands over his face.

  Okay, man, focus on something besides how her hunger matches yours. Or how soft her lips remained as you kissed the shit out of each other. Or how she plastered her chest against yours. Or how there wasn’t an iota of regret in those lust-filled eyes when the kiss ended.

  He’d be rubbing one out to the memory of that kiss for weeks to come.

  Liam stood on wobbly legs and threw out a hand to the countertop beside him. The potency of Stirling’s kisses on top of the cannabis cola… No wonder he wasn’t stable. His world had been flipped upside down.

  He didn’t bother checking his appearance in the mirror as he jammed his hands through his hair. He cleaned his glasses and collected the paperwork he’d need. After one last look around his office, he left.

  Artie caught him halfway down the hall. “Hey, Doc. You got time to look at weird spots I found on two of the plants in the stage-one grow?”

  Liam stopped. “You isolated the plants in question?”

  “Course I did. Then I went back through and checked all the other plants but I didn’t see any others had been infected—if that’s what this is.”

  “Any ideas what it might be, Artie?”

  He scratched his beard. “Nope.”

  “I’m late to a meeting with the Gradskys. I don’t know how long it’ll last. Will you be around for a while?”

  Artie shook his head. “It’s my granddaughter’s birthday party tonight.”

  “Who is on second shift?”

  “George. But I’ll be back tomorrow at noon.”

  “I’ll check them before I go home. Tell curious George not to mess with those plants.” George, the young, overly enthusiastic assistant grower, tended to act first, ask questions later.

  “Already warned him, Doc.” Artie grinned. “Don’t see you carrying a bat to your meeting. Have you and Stirling settled your differences?”

  Liam flashed back to Stirling’s nails digging into the back of his neck as she kissed him. “We’re trying new ways to communicate.”

  “Well, good luck to ya. That wildcat needs a firm hand to tame her.”

  I don’t want to tame her. I like the way she hisses and claws, and how much sweeter will it be if I get that wildcat to purr from my touch?


  He blinked. Christ, he had it bad if he couldn’t even hold a five-minute conversation without thinking about her. “Have a good night, Artie.”

  The door to the conference room was open. Stirling was alone, sitting at the head of the table.

  Déjà vu hit him…they’d been in this same scenario yesterday.

  She glanced up as he walked in.

  Macon bumped into him from behind. “What’s the holdup, Argent? Move it.”

  “Impatient much?”

  Stirling hadn’t looked away from Liam—granted, that meant he hadn’t looked away from her either.

  Don’t blush, don’t smile at me, and don’t give us away.

  Her gaze flicked to her brother. “Hooray. Another meeting with Dweedle Dee and Dweedle Dum.”

  Relief allowed him to breathe again. He took the same seat beside her as yesterday. “That’s not a very flattering way to refer to yourself, Miss Gradsky.”

  “Hilarious, Dr. Deadpan.”

  Macon sighed. “Knock it off. I’m not in the mood for the bicker twins today.”

  “You’re the one who called the meeting,” Liam pointed out.

  “I did. And first off, I need to apologize, Stirling. I was an ass to
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